What to Give Those Who Have “Everything”

Curbside Ad250x250Experiences, not things. You’ve heard the anthem.

If you want to be happy, spend your money wisely. That means you should concentrate your spending on experiences that you will remember forever, and forget about the fleeting hoverboard / Furby / Hatchimal that might bring a couple days of happiness and just maybe set the plane on fire. Spending on experiences is solid advice, and science supports it. Science.

I understand the draw of things. I spent a good forty years focusing on obtaining them. And here we are, drowning in so many things. Things I collected as a child. Things I held onto as a poor college student. Things I couldn’t think of parting with because I’d had them for so many years.

And now it’s the biggest time of year to give. It’s time to buy presents. You’ve got siblings! Parents and cousins, coworkers and friends! Time to buy so, so many things. Happy Holidays!

But what if — deep down — they don’t want things? What if, like you, they are grownups who buy all the things they want when they want them? Well, that’s a conundrum, now isn’t it?

 

They May Not Want Things.

 

What do you get the person who has everything? Not a thing.

Not a soap that smells like his favorite beer. He already has a case of his favorite beer, and it smells better than beer scented soap. Not a nonsense-of-the-month club just because he enjoys nonsense. He can sort the good nonsense from the bad nonsense, and if he wanted twelve random nonsense deliveries, he would have signed up already.

Some of us are actively trying to reduce the number of things they own. When I took a shot at minimalism in my master bedroom closet, I donated over 100 things. We’ve filled dozens of moving boxes with other stuff this year in our attempts to declutter our home and our lives.

 

What to Buy, Then?

 

Buy experiences.

If you didn’t see that coming, Tommy will come back there and hit you in the head with a tack hammer.

It’s super-obvious, but super-good advice.

Don’t buy a football jersey, buy football tickets! Instead of giving her the CD (or iTunes album), take her to the show. Mom says she wants a sweater? Take her out to lunch and to the mall afterwards. I’ll bet she’ll be happier with the lunch date, whether she goes home with a sweater or not.

 

weezer concert with foo fighters

weezer. worth it.

 

I’ve taken this tactic and applied it to gift giving the last several years with resounding success. No one’s been left wondering what to do with yet another pair of HomeTeam undies. I’ve done my best not to stick anyone with next year’s white elephant gift.

 

Other Options?

 

OK, neat advice, but his favorite band never comes within 300 miles of your town. She’s tons of fun when her team wins, but you don’t want to feel her wrath when the home team loses. Tickets are simply a bad idea in your case. What then?

Food! Who doesn’t like food? Restaurant gift certificates simply do not lose, and never end up donated to the local Salvation Army, unlike every popcorn making device ever. No red-blooded American will turn down candy, and I don’t know many that would refuse a dinner and night on the town.

When giving someone food, we’re generally talking gift certificates. Unless you really want to gift a side of beef. But most people don’t gift a side of beef. Or pork. [Note to readers: I would never reject a side of pork. Or beef.]

Your gift of a gift certificate should be reasonably generous. Once again, you’re giving someone an experience. Be sure to give enough to cover a meal for two at a minimum, or enough to cover the entire family if there are kids in the mix. Feeling really generous? Give one gift certificate to buy a meal for two, and a second for babysitting their munchkins while they enjoy an uninterrupted scrumptious meal. Then cross your fingers and hope they return the babysitting favor.

Don’t forget about other consumables. Last week, I gave the gift of beer to four unsuspecting brewery customers, courtesy of the Rockstar Community Fund. To see what others are doing with their $20 grants, see this thread on the Rockstar Finance Forum.

Sorry, Mom. Sorry, Dad.

 

It’s hard to implement a strategy like this without letting someone down. For me, it’s my Mom & Dad. My parents grew up in the shadow of the Great Depression. Things were everything. Experiences were luxuries. Luxury was having three squares, a roof over your head, and your Dad back from the War.

I grew up with a similar mindset. The more, the better. It makes sense. Things are worth something. The more things you have, the better off you are. In recent years, I’ve come to realize that the axiom may not be true for us. While we’ll never be true minimalists, we’re striving to be a little less maximalist.

Now, my parents have given me lots of great gifts over the last 41 years. They are also quite good about asking what I would like, and buying that exact thing. That’s how I got several of the great Nikon and Olympus lenses I use to take photos you’ll see all over this site.

This fall, I fielded the annual question about my wish list, and I struggled to come up with anything. After a month or so, a month in which my lovely wife reminded me with increasing frequency that I had to come up with something, I got a Black Friday e-mail with my Christmas gift(s) staring right back at me. Three all-grain brewing kits for $19.99 each.

 

 

The gift idea checked all the boxes. The gift will be used up, leaving no thing behind. Brewing is an experience, that will lead to a consumable — a consumable that can no doubt lead to more interesting experiences. A consumable that I share with fellow aficionados at our monthly homebrew meetings, where I’ve made many friends.

Degifting. The True Give Nothing Option

 

Penny from She Picks up Pennies introduced me to a term for what my wife and I have done on most holidays for years. Degifting. To degift is to agree not to exchange gifts with someone whom you previously had or normally would exchange gifts.

Degifting takes practice. You’ve got to be committed. If you mutually agree not to spend your money on each other, then don’t spend money on each other, unless you like inviting resentment and mistrust into the relationship. Then by all means, violate the Treaty of Nopresents, but do so at your own peril.

If giving absolutely nothing seems inherently wrong to you, consider the next best thing, a minimal gift exchange. Set a low dollar limit, say $5 or $10, and give something small that you can wrap up, open, and preferably eat or drink to celebrate the holiday for which the present was given.

What’s your take on gift giving as a grownup? Have you degifted or otherwise reduced the amount of boxes and bows that change hands? Do you like to give or receive experiences rather than things?


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49 comments

  • Great article PoF and I love the term “degifting”! We stopped gifting our adult sibling and parents a few years ago and it was great. They can all buy anything they want whenever they want, so it was a huge source of stress to try and find something they would like!

    And now that the kids are getting older, it’s getting tougher to buy them things as well. Toys won’t do and a car is not in the budget! We came up with some nice things they’ll enjoy this year, but it is getting tougher.

    Experiences are the way to go! For the last couple of years, our go-to gift has been movie tickets for our high-school aged nieces and nephews. They always love them!

  • We’ve totally been degifters the last 10+ years (although this year we both got phones that we totally needed – not really a gift). And I agree with Jon that the older the kids get, the harder it is to buy things for them (except those really expensive electronics made by that fruit company…) We are all about experiences too. Heading south to see family – no gifts with us. Just visiting and going out and seeing some local sights. We’ve all finally agreed we no longer need more “stuff” – feels good!

    • Our boys will be looking forward to gifts for years to come, but we try to give a mix of toys and experiences. Christmas stockings with little gifts, one nice gift each, and a Spring Break trip is how we’ve been approaching it.

      Safe travels!
      -PoF

  • Drsan1

    Things have changed for us in the past few years. When I initially became an attending I would send gifts to my family and my husbands family in NY ( mom, siblings and nieces/nephews). The list kept growing! We did it because we felt since we were the most “well off” people in the family we were obligated. The money for that was over $600 at times. Last year I just stopped. I will send a gift to my mom and anyone in true ” need”, and I feel so much better! The world didn’t end and everyone still talks to us…plus I’m about $550 richer each year by skipping the things.

  • Good one POF. This of course requires a maturity on the part of recipient also. If your dear gift recipient is hankering for that latest iWatch, a good ‘experience’ not in that form factor ain’t gonna cut it. Also, some experiences cost more than things! Numerous hard choices to make, no wonder holidays are stressful times of the year for most people.

    • True, TFR. Tickets to the show cost way more than the album, and if you’re going with the recipient, you’re sharing some of your time as well.

      Still cheaper than most iGadgets, though.

      Gifts are a strange source of stress, but there is an easy solution.

      Best,
      -PoF

  • I didn’t know you were a fellow brewer! I usually make recipes for cheap, but 20 bucks is a really good deal on a kit.

    Our go to for the holidays is to have friends and family over to do some hot tubing and make homemade pizza or Korean BBQ. We don’t gift much, but when we do, it’s usually homebrew 🙂

    • Sure am! Over 100 batches brewed, and I almost never use a kit, but they are awfully convenient, and easily modified.

      Our homebrew club does a Christmas beer exchange, so I’ve got a variety pack to share with my brother as part of his liquid Christmas gift.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • VagabondMD

    Do not forget about the (tax deductible) donation to someone’s favorite charity, in their honor, as a possible gift.

  • Ooooh, this is a good one. Last year we spent about $900 on Christmas (this was pre-frugal life, natch). This year we’re paying off student loans, so that absurdly huge amount wouldn’t work for us.

    We decided to do DIY gifts for Mr. Picky Pincher’s side of the family, which included a lot of fancy homemade food gifts that are otherwise difficult/annoying to make yourself. I think they’ll be appreciated. 🙂

    As for my side of the family, they’re sort of weirded out by DIY gifts, so I did buy gift cards and physical objects. BUT! I used to go all-out for Christmas, buying everyone multiple gifts. I’ve scaled it back to the completely reasonable present number of 1.

    It’s still not ideal, though. One Christmas we decided to just give gifts to the children, and it was the best freaking Christmas ever. My mom had just passed away, so it was great to be able to spend time with family and enjoy each other–that was the best Christmas ever, and no stress over finding presents.

    As far as giving gifts to adults, I do think experiences are the best bet, if you’re going to fork over cash anyway. If you’re tight on cash, I think thoughtful and well-made DIY gifts are great. I’m a fan of degifting myself, but I haven’t quite gotten everyone in the family on board yet. 😉

    • That was quite a budget, but I’ll bet there are some folks reading this that spend that much or more on individuals. The DIY gifts are a nice touch, and show more thought than a gift card or electronic gizmo.

      We’re still trying to get our dog onboard with the degifting. but it’s all we can do to get her to eat the deworming pills. One step at a time.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • I find that when the relatives/friends still have little kids, it’s a little tougher to ‘degift’ or do nothing. We try to set a lower dollar amount, especially since many of the kids get ‘gifts’ all times of the year from the parents or other relatives, with no price cap.

    There’s still a lot of mindset transformation to be had for everyone!

    • Kids usually don’t have a whole lot of their own money to afford the things they want, so it makes good sense to give gifts to them. You’re right, though, kids do tend to get lots and lots of gifts throughout the year. You don’t want them to feel entitled to them everytime they see you.

      Best,
      -PoF

  • We give experiences to our parents. They have everything they could possibly want so really the best gift is an experience to something special they don’t see coming. It’s started to spread to the rest of the family, which is great. If you had to ask me what I want for Christmas, it’s someone to watch the kids for the evening so my wife and myself can go out to eat. Last year someone gave us that, and I’m cautiously optimistic I’ll receive it again this year.

    • That is a nice gift, FTF. Fortunately, we’ve got parents who give us that gift for entire weeks!

      This fall, we treated my parents to a birthday weekend in the big city. I took Dad to a football game, while my wife and mother went to a Broadway production in the evening. Our kids got to play at the hotel pool, and a good time was had by all.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • My parents still insist on buying Things, and expecting Things in return. They ask me and my husband what we’d like, but then persist in buying us exactly what they themselves would like instead.

    We’ve since moved into a tiny apartment after living in a 1200-sq-ft house and my husband is reluctant to part with his cherished tool/video game/various hobby sets, so we’ve got stacks and stacks of containers piled up to the ceiling in our apartment.
    I’ve told my parents they are to get me no more things this Christmas, but a donation to our debt or a restaurant gift certificate would be nice. Still, they’ve already sent me an unmarked box that I unwittingly opened to find a batch of the useless cutesy kitchen decorations that they found at a craft show and just had to buy me. Ugh. Rant over. 🙂

    • It’s probably not what Roy Orbison had in mind, but when your parents show love with kitschy kitchen crafts, love hurts.

      Those items might make for a good gift basket item in a silent auction, if you can hang onto them until you have that opportunity to give.

      Condolonces,
      -PoF

  • Dr P

    Right on, PoF! My wife and I were successful in degifting for the adults on her side of the family starting a few years ago. I proposed ‘doing’ gifts to my side of the family this year, but was promptly shot down. Apparently the generic gift cards to clothing stores that made it on all my siblings’ lists are way more enjoyable than my ideas of getting together for a weekend at an indoor waterpark, going camping together, or hiring a babysitter so the adults could go out for a kid-free dinner…
    Maybe next Christmas I’ll send out a link with this article to my family to help reinforce my position.

  • I love the idea of degifting! For us, it’s hard not to give anything when folks have kids.
    One good compromise is to give nothing among the adults and clothing for the kids. When the kid grows out of the clothes, we can donate everything to charity (the clothes, not the kid), with a tax-deduction! Now that’s a gift that keeps on giving!

    • That’s a great idea until I remember how it felt to shake a box that was shaped like a Lego set and not hear Legos.

      Clothes. Again.

      But clothes do make a great gift, and it helps the parents out, too. One less thing to buy for the growing youngsters. Might want to supplement the pajamas with a small Lego set or whatever floats the kid’s boat.

      Best,
      -PoF

  • Most of the gifts we receive go directly into the donation bin or get passed along (not as regifts, just as offers) to people who might actually want and need them.
    If we don’t already have something, there’s probably a reason why!

    Food and beverages can also be tricky. While they are consumable and won’t take up space indefinitely, they can also derail people’s healthy goals. With a life full of experiences with many alcoholic friends and family members, I won’t encourage anyone to drink by gifting them wine/beer/etc. Cookies and chocolates are what we opt for now and we have a great time baking every year, though I know that healthy options would be better. I just can’t think of any that are universally loved and fun. Can you help me out?

  • Mr. BITA and I stopped giving each other Christmas gifts a few years ago and exchange letters to each other instead. This year, we are regifting (in addition to the letters). Why? This is the first Christmas Toddler BITA will be old enough to understand a little bit of what is going on. When we open gifts as a family we don’t want her to feel (as an only child), that Christmas is all about her and only she gets all the gifts. So we decided to do stockings for each other this year in addition to the letters.

    The gift of experiences is amazing because it is actually three gifts in one: the gift of anticipation, the actual experience, and the gift of a memory to cuddle up to for years to come.

  • My wife and I have degifted. My brother and sister in law have degifted.. My parents refuse to degift. Despite all my efforts they continue to send me presents- clothes, serving dishes, etc.

    As for our son, as he gets older we will make him donate one new gift a year (and not a crappy one) after the holidays. That way he will hopefully enjoy giving and start decluttering at a young age.

  • Science!

    I love that term “degifting”. Mrs. Tako and I have been doing that more frequently in recent years, but never had a name for it.

    Names are everything….well, that and Science!

    Great Post!

  • Merry Christmas!
    Mrs. RB40 is very difficult to buy for. She is very picky and she prefer to buy her own things. Anyway, we all went to see Rogue One last weekend and that was awesome. 🙂
    I also got a new ceramic pan and 2 bar stools that she has been wanting. Those are just household stuff, but they would improve our daily life.

    • I think you did well. I’ve heard nothing but good things about Rogue One and I may sneak in a matinee after my long Christmas weekend call shift is over. Buying things for the home is a great idea; you likely would have bought them eventually regardless of the holiday.

      Merry Christmas to the Udo family!
      -PoF

  • I’ve managed to mostly “degift” holidays with my immediate family, but extended family won’t buy into it! I try to stick with experiences (I’ve given lots of sports and concert tickets) and consumables (food, coffee, wine, beer). Anything else — unless I know for a fact that the recipient wants and needs it — is too likely to end up at Goodwill or in a landfill.

  • Ever since our daughter was born, our strategy has been to deflect from the adults to the kids. We struck a deal with the new grandparents and convinced them to stop having the adults exchange gifts, and just make it about the kids, within reason of course. So now I spend my time arguing with my parents about limiting the number of gifts to my daughter to just one or two. This has made life much simpler around the holidays, and the adults express their gratitude to each other by contributing to lavish home meals. My contribution is a really nice bottle or two of liquor, which varies every year for the element of surprise. So we basically degifted, and haven’t really looked back.

  • “But most people don’t gift a side of beef.”
    Omaha Steak Company would probably like it if you pushed this idea a little more. I wouldn’t turn down a side of beef or pork, either, for the record.

    One side of the family only does gifts for the very small children, and occasionally a little thing for us. Otherwise, we just get together for a meal and hang out.

    The other side of the family relishes the gift-giving so we’re still working on making the “we don’t need anything, we just want to see everyone” not just an empty statement everyone parrots, alongside a wish list half a mile long. 😉

    I’ve long ago stopped buying for cousins and cousins’ kids, we would never stop spending if we kept that up!

    Husband and I haven’t exchanged gifts in a few years, and I like it this way – I typically buy an investment for our retirement. No deals on stocks this year, so I plan to double up next year on a second rental. I just have to find that excellent deal on a house.

    • Omaha Steaks, the gift of beef. 60% off if you act now!

      Costco is my go-to for quality beef – thick cut prime sirloin for $9 to $10 bucks a pound. So good.

      Our spring break vacations are our gifts to each other. An investment is another great option.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • Jacq

    I got olive oil + balsamic pairs at a local place in different flavor combinations as a consumable.
    Trip souvenirs are also wrapped as gifts, but are all small.
    I know a glass blower and get a variety of pieces as gifts which are very one of a kind but can be used / displayed all year.
    Lastly I got what people asked for.
    I do a list for fam so they are getting me something I will use. I asked one parent for a new yoga mat and some socks like the 1 pair they got me last year. The reply email was about not going overboard this year, but that my siblings need stuff so they are going to buy for them. It took me like 2 weeks to respond. It’s true I completed a 4 year degree and have worked hard since for the career I have which let’s me buy the things I want and need. But really I asked for 2-3 pair of socks!!!
    I have too many clothes, too many knick knacks, etc. If I got new awesome socks, I’d totally ditch ones with almost holes.
    Alas.
    Happiest of Holidays!

  • I have convinced my side of the family to degift this year – at least for the adults! I expected to be met with some degree of resistance, but the idea of not having to shop was very appealing to my mom. Now we can focus more on the food…and Monopoly (if I can convince them to play – I kicked their butts at Thanksgiving).

    Oh, and though I don’t want or ask for anything for Christmas, I’d totally take a side of beef! 😉

  • Zaphod

    Ive been a long time degifter, didnt take any practice and never had a name I was just super poor for a long time and people dont have expectations after so long. Plus, people are adults, I dont get the desire to have to get a gift (again, maybe thats due to not getting them and being fine). More of a problem with the in laws, they dont need anything but are very serious about telling us of their specific and usually quite spendy presents. Doesnt make a lot of sense to me, drives the wife nuts.

    Otoh, saw Weezer and Panic! at the Disco this summer and that was amazing.

  • I am a big fan of one of the early ideas mentioned: Mom wants a sweater? Take her out for a lunch and sweater shopping. I’m proposing the idea to my wife now, but for her grandmother. This woman needs nothing, but I know spending time with us (and judging our lifestyle!) is of the utmost importance to her, so why not help her out? 🙂

  • Hi,

    You have pointed out some of the best relevant topics, most of them are true. My grandparents live in the south, and I pay $1000 to visit them and wish them the best but no gift. I work in a different country, and my kid gets older day by day, and his needs are getting expensive as well. I use to buy him a toy which was hard $19, three years ago and now he is demanding for Remote Control Plane, which cost me above $100. I’m afraid he is going to ask for an iPhone after few years but as a gift. Thank goodness world is changing.

  • In the modern world, spending money is really a tough thing, there are so many things all around which will surely force you to spend your hard earned money. There’s a quote which i found over the internet and I love it, here it is “if you buy things which you don’t need then soon you’ll have to sell things which you really need’. So think twice before spending your money, try to live as low as possible.

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